Don't Make Me Do This

Some thoughts on a best-of list

I understand the logic in releasing a “best horror of the year” list at the end of October - yeah, yeah, it’s Halloween, fine, even though there’s a full sixth of the year left to go after tomorrow - so when I woke up this morning to see a link to the Washington Post’s best horror of 2019 piece being passed around, written by Bill Sheehan, I wasn’t surprised. As I clicked and waited for the page to load, I was even vaguely optimistic. And then.

Here are all the authors and books Sheehan mentions in his 1100 word piece, in order:

  1. Thomas Tessier’s World of Hurt

  2. Joe Hill’s Full Throttle

  3. Nathan Ballingrud’s Wounds

  4. John Langan’s Sefira and Other Betrayals

  5. Paul Tremblay’s Growing Things

  6. Richard Chizmar’s The Long Way Home

  7. Brian Evenson’s Song for the Unraveling of the World

  8. F. Paul Wilson’s Secret Stories

  9. Stephen King’s The Institute

  10. Elizabeth Hand’s Curious Toys

  11. Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers

  12. Richard Chizmar’s Gwendy’s Magic Feather

  13. Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula 1999: Daikaiju

  14. Rachel Eve Moulton’s Tinfoil Butterfly

  15. Lois Murphy’s Soon

  16. Allister Timms’ The Killing Moon

  17. T. Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones

  18. Shaun Hamill’s A Cosmology of Monsters

So - notice anything?

Eighteen authors. Four women (I’ve bolded them above). Exactly zero people of color (as far as I can tell, anyway).

It’s 2019. I can’t fucking believe we’re still having this conversation.

Listen, there are some incredibly deserving authors on this list. Ballingrud, Tremblay, Evenson, and Langan are all incredibly talented and working to push the boundaries of what horror can be. And Chuck Wendig is a mensch and a wonderful writer, and Wanderers absolutely merits the praise it gets here.

(NB: I haven’t read anything by F. Paul Wilson other than The Keep, and I probably won’t, unless I receive some compelling evidence that his views on women have gotten better since 1981. And if you have any information about the Timms book Sheehan mentions, let me know - it sounds great, but I can’t find so much as a publisher product page for it, let alone an Amazon or Goodreads listing, and it doesn’t appear to have a US publisher.)

But what’s most frustrating to me here is that World of Hurt is a retrospective collection - and yet it leads this list as Sheehan’s “book of the year.” Tessier’s heyday was in the 70s and 80s, and none of the stories in this collection are new. And yet Sheehan dedicates a full paragraph to it! Chizmar and Newman, both well-established names in the genre (Chizmar runs his own indie horror press, for god’s sake), also each get a paragraph to themselves, while the four women listed above each get one sentence, max, three of them tucked away into a section at the end about “new voices.” Elizabeth Hand only gets the barest hand-wave.

I’m so tired of this. I have a chest cold, I slept like shit last night, and this isn’t what I wanted to do with my morning. But frankly, if anyone from the Washington Post is reading this, it’s time to let Bill Sheehan go and find a new horror reviewer. Preferably someone from a marginalized background. Preferably someone with a broader set of interests, who doesn’t hold 70s and 80s horror up as the Only Worthy Standard of Horror.

Stop looking behind you, Bill. It’s time to look forward.

Sorry it’s been quiet around here - look for another email tomorrow.